By John Gilstrap
Well I finally saw one of the new wonder machines by amazon.com. I was on a cross-country flight from Washington to San Francisco when the guy in the seat next to me pulled out this nifty electronic pad, flipped a switch and made writing appear on the screen. He said it was a business book that he’d downloaded from the amazon site.
I’m not much for chatting up the people next to me on airplanes—in fact, I get my noise-canceling headphones in place as fast as I can as the most polite means of telling the world to leave me the hell alone—so I nodded and feigned fascination for long enough to get my trusty Boses on my ears and then went about my business. Had I been in the mood to engage, though, I would have told him that he hadn’t in fact downloaded a book—he’d downloaded merely the text.
I’ve been called a Luddite before, and not without good reason, so maybe it’s no surprise to my friends that I hold strong to my belief that a book by definition is printed on paper. A “book” on CD is a recorded story. A “book” on an LCD screen is . . . well, hard to look at. I’m a traditionalist on these things.
For me, the act of reading a book involves nearly all the senses. I love the feel of the pages, the aroma of the ink, the gentle whisper of sound that some with every page turn. When I read a really good book, the most impressive scenes and turns of phrase aren’t just locked into my memory as scenes or sounds, they’re locked in by their position on the page where I read them. As I plow through a book, I love to watch the progression of the bookmark. When I’m starting out on a trip, it’s that bookmark landmark that tells me whether or not I need to put a backup book in my briefcase.
When a book is awaiting its turn to be read, it lies supine on a pile; when it’s finished, it gets a place on my library shelves. On cold nights in particular, there’s no greater pleasure than sitting in that book-lined room with the reading light on, swallowed in my green leather chair with the volume on my lap and a scotch in my hand. I’m not much for napping, but if one must fall asleep accidentally, there is no better circumstance for it.
I look at computer screens all day and many nights. Everywhere I go, it seems, I’m surrounded by plastic and buttons.
But not in the library. Never in my library.